3.5.41

The number evacuated from Greece is now estimated at 41-43,000 but it is stated that we had less men there than had been supposed, probably about 55,000. Casualties supposed to be 3,000, and prisoners presumably 7 or 8 thousand, which would tally with the German figures. [1] 8000 vehicles said to have been lost, I suppose vehicles of all kinds. No mention of ships lost, though they must have lost some. Spender, one of the Australian ministers,[2] states publically that “rifles are as useless against tanks as bows and arrows”. That at any rate is a step forward.

Apparently there is what amounts to war in Irak°. At the very best this is a disaster…In all probability we shan’t even deal properly with the so-called army of Irak, which could no doubt be bombed to pieces in a few hours. Either some sort of agreement will be signed in which we shall give away everything and leave the stage set for the same thing to happen again; or you will hear that the Irak government is in control of the oil wells, but this doesn’t matter, as they have agreed to give us all necessary facilities etc., etc., and then presently you will hear that German experts are arriving by plane or via Turkey; or we shall stand on the defensive and do nothing until the Germans have managed to transport an army by air, when we shall fight at a disadvantage. Whenever you contemplate the British government’s policy, and this has been true without a single break since 1931, you have the same feeling as when pressing on the accelerator of a car that is only firing on one cylinder, a feeling of deadly weakness. One doesn’t know in advance exactly what they will do, but one does know that in no case can they possibly succeed, or possibly act before it is too late…It is curious how comparatively confident one feels when it is a question of mere fighting and how helpless when it is a question of strategy or diplomacy. One knows in advance that the strategy of a British Conservative Government must fail, because the will to make it succeed is not there. Their scruples about attacking neutrals – and that is the chief strategic difference between us and Germany in the present war – are merely the sign of a subconscious desire to fail. People don’t have scruples when they are fighting for a cause they believe in.

[1] According to Liddell Hart, ‘On March 7,…the first contingent of a British force of 50,000 troops landed in Greece…They narrowly escaped complete disaster…leaving all their tanks, most of their other equipment, and 12,000 men behind in German hands’ (History of the Second World War, 1970, p. 125). Churchill gives the ‘losses’ as: United Kingdom, 6,606 (presumably including Polish forces), Australian, 2,968, New Zealand, 2,266, or 11,840 of the 53,051 in Greece at the time of the German attack. Of the survivors, 18,850 were evacuated to Crete; 7,000 went to Crete and later to Egypt; 15,361, including the wounded, went directly to Egypt; some 9,451 others, not army, were also evacuated – a total of 50,662 (The Second World War, III, pp. 205-06). 2194 Days of War states that the expeditionary force lost 12,712 men, of whom 9,000 were taken prisoner; Italian losses in the six months of the campaign were 13,755 dead, 50,000 wounded, 12,368 severely frostbitten, 25,067 missing; German losses in Greece and Yugoslavia were 1,684 dead, 3,752 wounded, 548 missing (hardly ‘mown down in swathes;’ see 22.4.41); the Greeks lost 15,700 dead and missing. The evacuation, conducted mainly by the Royal Navy, but with the help of Allied ships, was successful (2194 Days of War, p. 120).

[2] Sir Percy Spender (1897-1985), lawyer and politician, was at this time Minister for the Army in the Australian War Cabinet. At the 1950 Commonwealth Conference he proposed a scheme for the economic development of south and south-east Asia, which came to be known as the Colombo Plan. He was a judge at the International Court of Justice, The Hague, 1958-64, and President of the Court, 1964-67. Peter Davison

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6 Responses to 3.5.41

  1. “Their scruples about attacking neutrals – and that is the chief strategic difference between us and Germany in the present war – are merely the sign of a subconscious desire to fail.”

    Dude. Back off!

  2. George~~
    I like the way each paragraph builds to a slam-dunk finish:

    “That at any rate is a step forward.”
    ~
    “People don’t have scruples when they are fighting for a cause they believe in.”

  3. James Molay says:

    The Conservative government of Winston Churchill pursued the war with strategic vision and great energy and courage. Reading Orwell about them is to read the whinges of an ignorant wimp.

  4. M G says:

    @james Molay

    It wasn’t a Conservative government, it was a coalition government. I wouldn’t have thought even the Conservatives would stoop so low as to try and take credit for the victory of WW2.

  5. George~~
    Have “Conservatives” and “Liberals” [or whatever regional variant applies] morphed into each other over the past seven decades?

    Also: Au contraire, I give “scruples” credit for the victory of WWII.

  6. Barry Larking says:

    “The Conservative government of Winston Churchill pursued the war with strategic vision and great energy and courage. Reading Orwell about them is to read the whinges of an ignorant wimp.” – James Molay.

    Churchill said of himself that he ratted twice – that is, crossed the floor of the House of Commons from the Tories to the Liberals and back again. Together with Alfred Milner and Joseph Chamberlain, Churchill was a ‘Liberal Imperialist’ in the late 19th century. He never changed. He led his first Conservative government only in 1951 but was soon considered by colleagues to be completely unable to deal with the problems that faced a country crippled with debt and ruined by war; his ‘legendary status’ kept him in office long after he should have retired.

    I can think of few serious questions of the 20th century on which he was right ever; much of his political life was governed by a failure to comprehend the changed nature of the world after 1901. As M.G. (above) correctly points out, his premiership between 1940-45 was of a National Government. That he retained control over Cabinet (less so Parliament) was, in these difficult years, due primarily to Attlee and Bevin, leader of the Labour and (non-Communist) Trades Union movements. (Attlee alone of anyone I have read said of Gallipoli where Attlee had fought, and often seen as a disaster of Churchill’s making, “the one original strategic idea of the [First World] War”. For this generous remark, Churchill never missed an opportunity to insult Attlee, a well known trait of attacking those closest to him that no one was able to wean him from.)

    Churchill’s great abiding fault, short sighted and bigotted obstinacy, was for a brief time an asset, one which saved the world from great danger if not worse. He could not see his country was beaten. He would fight on as many of his class would not have done. A more intelligent or imaginative leader would not have seen that by simply surviving one might triumph.

    George Orwell accepted risk in his own life. He was shot though the throat fighting alongside men with whom he did not agree politically and then courted unpoplarity and suspicion by defending these same men when they were systematically defamed in left wing circles. This was the origin of his thoughts about politics and individual experience later expressed in ‘Animal Farm’ and ’1984′. As man and a writer Orwell demonstrates physical and moral courage, hence the interest in his work and life.

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